Before Parliament House, the great and the good had gathered in the snow to witness a miracle. It was scheduled for a quarter past one, with refreshments to be served immediately following. Politicians, captains of industry, their wives, journalists, a smattering of academics, and a couple of individuals with real power sat expectantly in white wooden chairs. Officially, they were there to take in a speech by an advocate for demi-human rights, followed by a demonstration of two of his students’ abilities.
Unofficially, they were there to watch children do magic.
Khí Cụ was not what either Maelstrom or Myriad had been expecting. Lawrence and Timothy Valour had both described her as a young woman, but Myriad and Maelstrom had pictured her as just that: a woman. Instead, they were greeted by a teenage girl—probably no older than Ex-Nihilo or Stratogale, maybe a little younger—sipping a champagne flute beneath the pole marquee that had been set up for the guests. The warm, red glow thrown off by the coals of an outdoor heater bathed her face and that of the strong featured, dark-suited man shadowing her. At first glance, Maelstrom thought he might be a relative of Thumps and Jives, but the suspicious look he shot the party as they filed inside put paid to that notion. There was a gun holstered at his side.
“Are you the group from the New Human Institute?”
It was the first American accent Maelstrom and Myriad had ever heard in person. He sounded like television. Elsewhere would simply die of envy.
Tiresias smirked. “That we are. And you must be the man from U.N.C.L.E?”
Therese waved, smiling nervously. “Hello.”
He ignored the sarcasm, and the woman. “Agent Preston, Department of Psychonautics and Occultism, on attachment with—”
“I think I can introduce myself, Harold,” cut in Khí Cụ. The South Vietnamese super got up from her chair and walked over to the children. Smartly dressed in a long belted coat the colour of burnt umber, the collar of a brightly coloured undershirt just barely visible beneath a thick woolen scarf, the young lady somehow gave the impression of being both overgrown and half-finished. Gerberas were scattered through her raven dark hair1. Nobody—barring maybe Agent Preston—could picture her in a war zone. Her song was oddly organic, as though instead of being played with actual instruments, it was the work of an orchestra of piping, chittering insects.
She shook Maelstrom and Myriad’s hands in turn. “Khí Cụ. Sorry for using the codename, Harold here insisted.” Her English was quite passable, although something odd happened whenever she spoke. It was like she said something, then half an instant later the universe decided she actually said something else.
“Security, ma’am,” the spook said, a touch apologetically.
“Can’t imagine what difference it makes.” Without prompting, she pulled a necklace from under her blouse: an amulet hung from the chain, consisting of a splinter of stone entwined in bronze. “If you’re wondering about the… playback, blame it on this. Gift from Pendergast. Translation pendant, he called it. Told me it was hewn from the Tower of Babel or something. Works both ways, too.” She smiled wryly. “From my end, you’re all speaking Vietnamese.”
In Vietnamese, Myriad asked, “Can you tell I’m really speaking it right now?”
Khí Cụ tilted her head. “…I can. Did I just teach you a language?”
The girl nodded, not a little proudly. “Yup! Got it from your song. First Asian language I’ve learned, I think, aside from a little Chinese.” Oh, that was AU…
“I’m flattered? And what song?”
Lawrence beamed. “Myriad—forgive me if we use ‘codenames’ ourselves—perceives people’s skills and knowledge as music. I’m told us baselines sound much the same, but supers are a mite more interesting.”
“…A person can be summed up with a song?”
“I’ve heard some of them myself,” said Tiresias. “I just take comfort that at least one child will hit legal drinking age with a healthy understanding of wine vintages.”
Myriad went very still on hearing that the esper had read her mind at some point. Luckily for her, no one noticed.
“And it took her less than a minute to… become everything I am?”
“Spectacular, isn’t it?” said Lawrence, grinning.
Khí Cụ downed the rest of her drink. It suddenly felt very necessary to be at least slightly tipsy.
Therese looked on with some concern. “Aren’t you a little young for that?”
“Lady, I’m on leave from being shot at by communists. I think I’m entitled to a little drink.” She hiccuped slightly. “And kangaroos!”
Tiresias picked up a flute from the refreshments table. “I’ll drink to that!”
“Before, you do,” said Tim Valour as he passed through the tent flaps. “I think we should talk shop.”
“Ah, Timothy,” said Lawrence jovially. “Is everything set?”
“Yes,” he confirmed, frowning. “I still wish I could’ve told them more precisely what you were planning.”
Lawrence patted Maelstrom on the back. “I trust my students to come up with something edifying. So long as they’re provided with the adequate resources.”
“Water tanks have been placed in suitably discrete locations on the grounds. Not that the boy should need them in this weather.”
Maelstrom hoped dearly that his teacher hadn’t been talking him up.
“And me?” asked Myriad.
“Various seeds have been planted for your use,” explained Agent Preston. “Rest assured, this winter of yours shouldn’t impede you.”
“You should be able to tell what they’ll grow up into, if you really can take on my power,” added Khí Cụ, with what Myriad thought might be a trace of distaste in her voice. Like she was hoping it couldn’t be done. Nodding, a patch of dandelions sprouted at the child’s feet.
Therese cocked an eyebrow. “How’d you ever get that approved? I mean, no offense, Maelstrom, but water dries up. Plants seem a bit more… permanent.”
Maelstrom honesty wondered how he could be offended by that.
Tiresias grinned, his index and pointer fingers pressing on his temples in the universally recognised psionic gesture. “He convinced the maintenance people that it was cheaper than hiring a landscaper!”
Timothy glared at the esper. “Have you been reading my mind, Moretti? There’s classified information in here!” he almost growled.
“Because that’s going to make me less inclined to poke around there.”
Lawrence made to chastise Tiresias, but Valour threw a hand up. “It’s for your own good, lad,” he warned. “There’s things in my head that you don’t want to let the light fall on.”
“My hometown was run by blackshirts, old man. I’ve seen plenty.”
Timothy folded his arms. “Then go ahead, my boy.”
Tiresias smirked. Then he suddenly looked acutely queasy. “Oh, God.” He stumbled backwards into the table behind him, almost knocking it over. “How are you still alive?”
Tim Valour allowed himself the ghost of a smile. “Who says I am? Miss Fletcher, will you do me the favour of helping Mr. Moretti find his seat?”
The DDHA head and the young teacher hoisted up the woozy psychic between them, leading him outside.
Over his shoulder, Tim said, “We’re on in five, Lawrence. Me and Khí Cụ soften them up, you give your spiel, and you two”—He pointed at the children—“come out and do your thing, so keep an ear out for your cue. Oh, and good luck.”
Agent Preston and Khí Cụ both made to follow them, the former gently supporting the latter by the arm. It amazed Preston that an almost deific power could be such a lightweight with her booze. But then, she was young. “We’ll leave you to it. Hope we can speak more later.”
The other adults gone, the children both looked up at Lawrence. He had wished to avoid dressing them up like circus performers, but it was hard to resist a little symbolism in their outfits. Maelstrom had been clothed in the shades of Aegean blue and electric lime his mother was partial towards, and Therese had found him a set of pearl cufflinks out in the city. And as fond as Mary Gillespie was of communion white for the namings, the head teacher thought it far too severe a colour for a little girl—and black was simply out of the question. Instead, Myriad was wearing a cotton floral dress for the occasion, all pinks and reds and bright purples. She had to admit, it did make her feel pretty.
“What are we supposed to do out there?” she asked plaintively.
“And is there stuff we’re not supposed to do?”
Lawrence chuckled. “I’m sure you two have enough common sense not to try anything potentially catastrophic. And there’s little you could do that wouldn’t impress.” He started for the outside. “Just pretend you’re playing, you’ll be fine,” he finished, not looking back.
Maelstrom and Myriad looked at each other. That advice put them at ease about as as much as an alien anthropologist telling a grown up he only wishes to observe human mating practises2. Alone at last, they got down to panicking in earnest.
“Seriously, what’s the plan?” cried Maelstrom, raking his fingernails over the backs of his hands.
“I don’t know!” Myriad spat back. The most experience the girl had performing for an audience was her brief turn as the Virgin Mary in Harvey Primary’s 1964 nativity play, and the less said about that debacle the better3. “You and Mabel do this sorta thing all the time! Don’t you have any ideas?”
There was the sharpening whine of a microphone being adjusted. Preambles and platitudes from a man who, while confident and convicted, did not expect his career to involve many speeches.
“We never did anything in front of strangers!” And we usually knew they weren’t gonna like us to start with… Maelstrom’s voice was quavering, barely holding back sobs. “And Mabel was the one who came up with stuff! We’re gonna ruin everything!”
Myriad grabbed her friend’s shoulders. Much as she liked the water-sprite, Maelstrom was wobbly even at the best of times, and this was not the time for a breakdown. Holding his gaze, she said, “It’ll be okay, David. We’re new humans.” She tried to think of what Lawrence might say. “The worst we can do is still better than the best thing they’ve ever seen.”
“—hostile footing with our demi-human population not only needlessly ties up funds and manpower, it also puts our regulatory forces at unprecedented risk—”
It wasn’t working, and no matter what Myriad tried, David was looking paler and paler by the second. She wondered if using his… old human name, she supposed, was such a good idea after all.
“How are we doing in here?” Came the kind, unfamiliar voice of some staffer from the exit. “You two are on in about two minutes, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Myriad replied absently, her focus still on Maelstrom, who had begun to look distinctly ill. “Hey, David, you’re just gonna be playing with me, okay? Just playing in the water, like we did back home, alright?”
“—they not Australian children, also?”
The boy gave her a feverish little nod, but the look of panic on his face remained unchanged. Myriad sighed, and moved away from him for a moment, trying to catch a glimpse of the Vietnamese girl’s performance. She allowed herself to peek out, just for a moment, before pulling her head back inside. It looked like the show was already over, the stage surrounded by a thick bracket of apple trees. Trees that had most definitely not been there a few minutes ago.
“—Hope this demonstrates to you all with some degree of finality, the many and sundry practical applications for such powers, in war, construction, and even simple agriculture. With these demi-humans—appropriately trained and controlled, of course—on our side, the potential is enormous. Don’t hesitate to sample some apples, by the way. I’m told they’re quite delicious. But first, our next demonstration, sourced from a facility in Western Australia, the New Hu-”
She pulled back away, thoughts tumbling around in her head in a disorganized heap, and looked back to David. He was crying, mumbling quietly to himself as he did.
“David!” Myriad groaned, looking around wildly for something she could use to calm the boy. A small table caught her eye, littered with a smattering of preshow refreshments for the stage workers and other such performers. She darted over to it, wrapping Maelstrom’s song around herself and working intensely for a few moments, before returning to the boy. Quite unceremoniously, she shoved her freshly made snowball, a slurry of frozen water and orange juice, into his face, forcing a good dollop into his mouth. David yelped, eyes darting to her face in confusion and surprise. She didn’t stop, and instead started working bits of her makeshift snow cone up into her friend’s nose. He shuddered with discomfort, his whole body seeming to tense for a second, before he sneezed, loud and undignified, spraying the grass with citrus scented sludge.
“David,” Myriad hissed, grabbing the boy by the shoulders. “Nothing’s changed, okay? It’s you and me, and we are gonna go out there and play in the water, just like we always do. And if we mess it up, if it all goes wrong, then I guess it just means the world wasn’t ready to see us yet, okay?”
“B-buh,” David tried to respond, staring at her, “but what about Lawrence and M-mum and everyone who needs this!?”
“They aren’t real right now, David,” she ordered, trying to force it to be true by sheer force of will. “Right now it’s just you and me playing with the water and nothing else matters, okay? Nothing else.”
Maelstrom shuddered, absently licking a lump of orange snow from his lip. He looked up at her, took a deep breath, swallowed, and nodded.
“Good,” Myriad sighed, relieved. “Let’s think. What do we have to work with?” As she spoke, she moved back over to the refreshments table, tossing Maelstrom a glass of water, with which he began to wash the juice from himself.
“Well,” he pondered, “We have my powers, and Khi Cu’s, and Tiresias’, I guess.”
Myriad thought about it, then shook her head. While she knew from unfortunate experience that Tiresias could project images onto the mind’s eye, she had yet to sample his powers, and hoped she wouldn’t need to. She didn’t expect performing would be any less daunting with their audience’s every thought slamming against her skull. Not only that, she suspected a lot of the telepath’s demeanor was a direct result of his abilities; and she was far too young for wine and clove cigarettes.
“Not Tiresias,” she muttered. “There’s cameras out there. I don’t think anything I made them see would show up in photos.”
Lawrence had taken over from Timothy Valour by then, but the children hadn’t been paying attention. They had mostly heard it all before over many a breakfast. At least until they heard their names called:
“And now, Maelstrom and Myriad.”
David went as still as he could while still being flesh and blood. He was well beyond panic.
Myriad took his hand, smiling through her own fear. “Watercolours on tour?”
He nodded uneasily.
The two children walked out into the cold, empty air, the thick carpet of snow going from the consistency of flour to crushed ice beneath their feet. Neither of them had ever seen snow in person before, and while the adults had mentioned the possibility, they hadn’t imagined such a complete powdering of the capitol. It was as if the Americans had brought their winter with them, three or four months early.
The snow simultaneously comforted and intimidated David. The abundance of water, even in a somewhat unfamiliar form was reassuring, yes, but here was nature replicating one of Melusine’s parlour tricks without permission. The boy tried to mimic his mother’s usual confidence and self-possession as they walked towards the stage. When the crowd caught sight of the children, they were met with with polite, anticipatory applause, which was of little comfort to Maelstrom. It made him feel like he now owed them something.
Myriad kept ahold of her friend’s hand; partly in an attempt to keep him calm, partly in case he tried pulling a runner. “Me first, okay?”
Maelstrom didn’t argue.
The chill was hitting Myriad far harder than her friend. As it turned out, Khí Cụ had no more resistance to the cold than any baseline. What she did have was a whole new complex of exotic senses for Myriad to adjust to. She could feel every plant for over a fifth of a mile clinging to the skin of the world. She felt like an ant inching its way across the body of a somnolent giant as it slept away the winter, conserving all it could while dreaming of spring. She could sense the warmth of seeds buried beneath the earth, waiting for either the weather to turn or for her to rouse them. When she looked at the apple trees Khí Cụ had brought forth, she knew they would always be verdant, until there was no sun at all to shine down on them, and maybe even beyond that.
Timothy, Mr. Thumps and Lawrence were waiting on stage, Lawrence with an arm held out to the two as if presenting a new car. “Are you two ready to show us what you can do?”
Myriad looked out over the audience. Robert Menzies and his wife Pattie sat in the middle of the front row, between Valerie “Val” Valour (“Now where’s my comic?” she’d always say at parties) and Khi Cu’s official host during her sojourn in the country: the bespeckled US ambassador Edward A. Clark4. For the first time in her short life, Myriad honestly envied Fred Barnes. He would know just what to do faced with these men of influence who had so thoughtlessly strayed from the newspapers in which they belonged. It would’ve involved a lot of shouting and impeccably aimed spittle, but he would have done it without hesitation or regret.
The audience looked out and saw a little girl and boy, each dressed in what would appear to have been their Sunday best—if they were Swiss Guards at the Vatican. The little girl paused, glanced back at her companion, and turned to face the crowd. She stepped up to the microphone, standing on her toes trying to reach the receiver. Without instruction, Mr. Thumps lowered it to her height, which elicited some chuckles from the audience.
The girl tapped the microphone, as you do, eliciting a small crackle of static. “If you don’t mind, I’m gonna need you all to follow me and Maelstrom.” Offering no further explanation, she strode across the stage, descended the stairs on the left side, and strolled through the snow down towards Lake Burley Griffin, as though the company of her audience was more a pleasant possibility than a strict requirement. Maelstrom followed, trying his best to look like he knew what his friend was doing.
Timothy and Lawrence glanced at one another. The Oxfordian shrugged, which for him was a particularly seismic movement. They both hurried after the children, Tim Valour taking a moment to bend down and speak into the microphone, “Well, you heard the girl.”
With trepidation, the crowd rose from their seats, following the children down to the chopping, slate waters of the artificial lake. Some did so with difficulty, being at an age where any walking is preferably scheduled far in advance. They muttered amongst themselves about the presumption of it all, wondering darkly if the rural headteacher needed to exercise a stronger hand on his students.
The Prime Minister, for his part, spurred his peers across the smothered grass. “Keep apace, fellas! Surely we’re not averse to a touch of exercise?”
Mrs Valour caught up to her husband, holding the hem of her dress so it didn’t drag in the snow. “Tim, was this planned?”
Timothy looked at his wife. One of the few advantages of his new vocation was that he was practically mandated to drag Valerie to all kinds of functions and events. He’d had quite his fill of time away from his wife during the wars. Still, she had never been comfortable with the stranger details of his life. She rarely even abided stories from the old days. “Well, the ‘plan’ was for those two to do something impressive. I’d say a pair of eight year olds ordering the political elite around qualifies. Anything more is just a bonus.”
Valerie gave him a sharp glance. “I doubt our elected representatives will see it that way. Do you have any idea what those children are going to do?”
Timothy looked out at Maelstrom and Myriad. The two of them were well ahead of their audience, nobody daring to close the distance between them. They were walking with the casual, loping grace of children at ease, cutting through the snow as if it were fog, conversing too low for any of the adults to hear. You might have thought they had forgotten the cohort of politic-men, reporters, business moguls and professional wives trudging behind them.
Tim thought he saw Myriad look back at the crowd. It took him a moment to puzzle out the expression that graced her face. Fear? Anger? Disdain?
No—indifference. Just checking to see if the humans were still following them.
“I’m sure whatever game they decide to play will be interesting to watch.”
The children stopped at the edge of the water. After all, it would have been impolite to go where the crowd behind them could not follow. Myriad raised a hand, and there was no question of anyone coming any closer. Maelstrom regarded the lake with something that might have been longing. The girl was digging into the frozen dirt with her foot.
A newsman standing close to Lawrence said, “Well, either you’ve taught these kids the value of suspense, or we’ve caught them flat footed.”
Wordlessly, the two children turned to face the watching crowd. It was hard to make out, but some of the keener eyed among their audience thought that perhaps their eyes shone with a faint Cherenkov blue. All was silence as the two groups gazed at one another. The snow continued to fall gently all around them, first a little harder, then a lot harder, growing and growing until they could barely see more than a foot in front of their own faces. For a few moments, all that anyone could see were four tiny points of blue light, glowing softly in the distance. Then, all at once, the snowfall stopped. In mid air. The snow remained exactly where it was, hanging in the air like time itself had succumbed to winter.
Far ahead of the gathered crowd of the most powerful, influential men Australia had to offer, the two children had reemerged. Despite the biting cold and their small frames, both children looked utterly comfortable.
Maelstrom (most of the crowded guessed he was an Aborigine, but none of them thought it was an exact fit) stepped forward, shrugged off his jacket, and deposited it, neatly folded, on the snow covered ground. With that, he stepped out onto the perfect, unblemished patch of snow that separated them from their audience, but his steps left no mark and his feet failed to sink even an inch into the fine powder.
The boy gave his audience a polite bow, raised his arms to either side, and began to dance, his body shifting gently over the snow like a skater. He moved like water. He pushed off from the floor in the tiniest of leaps, and executed a gentle pirouette through the air. In the sudden clarity of the air, many caught the strange serenity of his face, others, more attentive, saw that his eyes were closed. Then Myriad began to move and in an instant all eyes were drawn to her.
She, like her partner, took a small step forwards, and gave a small bow—not a curtsey, but a bow—before raising her arms to her sides as Maelstorm had. All around the crowd the snow began to shift and clear, eventually compacting itself into a formation of chairs, each made from solid ice. The gathered men and women took their seats reluctantly, and most of them gave the seats a cautionary poke before sitting down.
“Wonderful,” said Tiresias, still recovering from his glimpse inside the DDHA chief’s head. “She makes us get up out of our chairs and drags us through the snow, so she can make us sit on ice. Real improvement there.”
Though clearly audible in the utter silence, Tiresias’ words were largely ignored by those assembled, as the children before them held all of their focus. Myriad gave the tiniest flick of her outstretched wrist, and the patch of snow upon which Maelstrom was dancing began to shift and shimmer, before erupting upwards in a plume of motion, disturbing the otherwise utter stillness of the scene beyond the dancing boy. In the center of the plume, a figure slowly began to form, about the height of the two children, but composed of pure, crystalline ice. It was a girl, but oddly for a sculpture, not an idealized one. Her features were not slight or refined, and they were just a little on the side of chubby. Perched on her nose were a pair of frost-formed horn rimmed glasses.
Boy and statue began to dance together, slowly at first, Maelstrom stumbling oddly with every few steps, for which the sculpture covered expertly. Slowly he grew used to the steps, and the two began to speed up ever so slightly, their steps taking them easily to the boundaries of the snow to either side until, with a look of pure joy upon his face, the boy came to a stop. The statue pulled him in for a hug, before slowly sinking once more into the snow.
The boy returned to Myriad’s side, retrieving his jacket from where it lay folded on the ground and, as one, the two turned away from the audience, each extending a hand into the thick fog that separated the scene from the rest of the world. At their will, the shroud began to clear. In its place, suffice to say, stood a miracle.
It was obvious that the children had led them to the banks of the lake with the intent of using the muddy water for some display or another. What was surprising was that the water was no longer muddy. It was now clear, so clear in fact, that the eye could see to the very bottom of it with ease. The two children stepped easily out onto the water’s surface, much to the surprise of anyone who had, for some damn fool reason, been expecting them to sink. The moment the first foot struck the water’s surface, a ripple began to spread across the lake, and the small waves that perpetually rocked their way across the lake were stilled upon contact with it.
The two young demigods turned their attention back to the gathered humans, and, in an eerie synchrony, raised their hands to beckon them forwards. The snow upon which Maelstrom had been dancing parted, like the red sea itself, and the first of the politicians, practically mesmerized by what he had seen, rose from his chair and stepped forwards.
Once the entirety of the crowd had gathered around them, leaving perhaps a metre of space as an unspoken gesture of either respect or fear, Myriad slipped a hand in her pocket, letting out a mumbled little curse as she fumbled inside it, then checked her other pocket and gave a little grunt of satisfaction. For a moment, her eyes lost their strange blue luminescence, returning to their usual hazel, and she put her hand to the ground, placing whatever she had pulled from her dress on the icy soil. The child then beckoned the ground with her hands, and, strangely enough, the ground complied. Roots began to grow with startling speed through the frozen earth, a tiny smattering of saplings sprouting from it. These roots twisted upwards from the ground, shifting and winding together until they began to take on a form some of the watching crowd recognized. Soon enough, the first of the dinghies was completed, and the bravest of the humans took their seats upon it. Then the second, and the third.
The children stepped calmly out onto the surface of the lake proper, the fifteen boats pulling their audience along behind them at a respectful distance that was entirely not of their choosing. When they reached the centre of the lake, Myriad leaned in to whisper something into Maelstrom’s ear, and he nodded. They stopped walking, the boats surging forwards and spacing themselves out evenly around them. Maelstrom stooped down, his hand dropping below the surface of the water for a few moments, and the audience let out a muffled gasp as his form became that of solid, implacable ice. It didn’t seem to impede him in the slightest, and he withdrew his hand, now clutching a long, slender wand, hewn from ice like glass. With a degree of nervousness, the boy strode across the water to the third boat, upon which, among others, sat the perplexed form of Robert Menzies. The little boy extended a hand, holding out the wand to the confused Prime Minister who, after a moment of uncertainty, took it from him.
For several moments, nothing happened. All eyes staring towards the boy statue and the most powerful man in Australia. The boy gave an awkward little gesture towards the water with a hand and, in a voice like a thousand wind chimes ringing all at once, distorted perhaps by the ice that was his form, asked:
“Well, wanna try it out?”
Menzies glanced down at the wand, then, with a shrug, gave it a little flick. About twenty feet away, the water responded with a little splash. Of all the reactions he could have given, the Prime Minister laughed, a surprised sound, growing into a full, chortling guffaw. He gave the wand another, slightly more confident flick, and the water flowed smoothly in response, one or two of the nearby boats rocking slightly on the disturbed surface. Menzies stood, grinning foolishly in spite of himself, and pointed the wand at the surface of the lake, before directing it up towards the sky. A great pillar of ice rose up from the water’s surface, looming ten, twenty, thirty feet up into the air, before coming to a halt.
Menzies cackled, bringing the wand up to his shoulder and swiping it wildly to the side. The great monolith of ice shattered at its midsection, massive chunks of it showering down into the still water with, one had to assume, a very intentional set of satisfying splashes. The ice boy giggled. Or rather, the water around him vibrated in a way reminiscent of giggling, while his features remained completely fixed.
“It’s fun, huh?” Maelstrom asked in that same, utterly alien voice. The Prime Minister nodded, his face split by a wide grin.
With another faint laugh, the boy knelt back down towards the water, producing another wand, and offering it to Menzies’ wife. On the boat opposite, Doctor Lawrence was receiving his wand from the girl. Within a few minutes, all present were similarly armed—each wand personalised according to Maelstrom’s whims—and the two small gods once more stood in the centre of the ring. Myriad, a sharp grin on her face, turned towards the good doctor and flicked her wrist at him. A small spout of water leapt up from the surface of the lake and impacted against Lawrence’s face. It was surprisingly warm.
“Water fight!” she said with a smile.
Lawrence let out a laugh that sounded more like a foghorn, and flicked his wand back at her. A great plume of water erupted from the lake beside her, covering the little girl from head to toe.
“Eep!” She yelped, before prodding her frozen partner in the side. “Maelstrom, too hard!”
His only response came in the form of another splash, dousing her yet again.
It was Khi Cu who set the real fight going, directing her own wand towards Valerie Valour, and causing a wave powerful enough to rock the boat on which her whole party sat. From there, it wasn’t long at all before the majority of the Australian parliament was fighting amongst themselves like children5 with the wands.
Menzies scored one or two very satisfying hits on a few of the more irritating backbenchers. Almost as frequent as the sounds of splashing were the flashes of cameras, as journos tried desperately to capture the action6.
Eventually, Myriad cleared her throat. “If we’re ready to head back to land, we can show you all what it feels like to walk on water.”
It took a little while for anyone to try. Eventually, though, Therese Fletcher swung her legs over the side of her dinghy, and after an agonizing moment of hesitation, lowered herself—eyes screwed shut—down onto the water. When it registered that she hadn’t in fact fallen through the surface, she laughed, almost hysterically. She leaned down, tapping the surface of the water with a finger. A single ripple shifted through the water all around her in a perfect circle. She began to walk forward, cautiously at first, then at a great stride, head held high. She wondered, privately, if this was how Melusine felt.
Soon, the two children were leading a parade back to the shore. As they drew nearer, trees started to erupt from the soil near the lakeside, like great, bark covered fingers straining to reach the grey sky. Lebanese cedar and cork pine hurried through childhood, weaving together as Myriad—much to Khi Cu’s dismay—demanded they contort themselves to her design. The result was a living imitation of a gothic cathedral in miniature, like some strange Christian tribute to a forgotten nature god. A number of unnaturally bent tree trunks split from the cathedral’s entrance like great wooden tongues, meeting to form a jetty on the lake.
There was little question as to where the rest of the function was to be held.
1. She usually let people assume she weaved them in. ↩
2. The Physician learned the hard way that most humans aren’t amenable to such requests.↩
3. Myriad had questioned both the lack of contemporary evidence for the Romans requiring subjects to return to their place of birth for censuses or the Massacre of the Innocents, as well the presence of rainbow lorikeets in first century Palestine (the costumes had been recycled from a previous school play about the wonders of Australia). Elsewhere, being second rainbow lorikeet, took this as a ploy to force him out of the production, which resulted in a scuffle between the children. Any hope of getting things back on track once the tears and the feathers were cleaned up were dashed when Elsewhere asked what a virgin was. ↩
4. Who, in conspiracy theorist circles, would later be accused of being the Flying Man.↩
5. Business as usual, really.↩
6. The headline in the following morning’s edition of The Australian read “Menzies wins, by four dunks to two”↩